Got an Eye for “Talent”? Better Check That Bias Blind Spot.

Like this on Facebook

Some of the folks that I get the most resistance from when talking about bias are recruiters and hiring managers. They love to say things like “bigotry is stupid and bad business,” and “I just want to hire the best person for the job,” and “I don’t care about race.”

The word “bias,” is probably part of the problem, as it is one of those words that brings a bunch of baggage, but the truth is that we are naturally judgmental as human beings. We make assumptions. We categorize. We jump to conclusions. We interpret what we see, hear and smell and give it meaning.

The meaning that we give to what we see, hear and smell is often times more about us, our beliefs and our own life experience than it is about what we see, hear and smell and what it is actually evidence of. We all know a guy that only hires extroverts because they make the best sales people. We all know someone that believes a college degree is proof that someone follows through on things. Neither of these things are facts, they are simply beliefs that sometimes prove to be true and sometimes prove to be inaccurate.

We judge, and on one level, we understand this. Even recruiters do. We know that the world is a judgmental place, and we try to use that to our advantage by focusing on making a good first impression. Even recruiters do. I squint, lower my head and cross my arms all the time, even when I am not unhappy, ashamed or defensive. We realize that the world is an incredibly judgmental place, but rather than address that head on and try to reduce it, we try to help our friends and family navigate better.

The reason that the world is a judgmental place (and that there are racial and gender disparities in nearly all aspects of our society) is that each of us are judgmental. Remind your friends and family that first impressions are important, but don’t forget to do some work on the other side of the equation as well. It is really, really hard for us to see our own bias, especially when we claim to have expert and unbiased perspectives on talent and ability…but it’s there, trust me.

Caring deeply about talent is not enough, you also have to have some appreciation for human nature, and specifically how we make decisions about people.

…from pages 248-251 in Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell.

“The world of classical music – particularly in its European home – was until very recently the preserve of white men. Women, it was believed, simply could not play like men. They didn’t have the strength, the attitude or the resilience for certain kinds of pieces. Their lips were different. Their lungs were less powerful. Their hands were smaller. That did not seem like prejudice. It seemed like a fact…”

Your bias never seems like bias to you, there is always some justification or evidence.

“It seemed like a fact, because when conductors and music directors and maestros held auditions, the men always seemed to sound better than the women. No one paid much attention to how auditions were held, because it was an article of faith that one of the things that made a music expert a music expert was that he could listen to music played under any circumstances and gauge, instantly and objectively, the quality of the performance.”

Articles of faith often hide big juicy truths and opportunities.

“But over the past few decades, the classical music world has undergone a revolution. In the United States, orchestra musicians began to organize themselves politically. They wanted the audition process to be formalized. That meant an official committee was established instead of a conductor making the decision all by himself. Musicians were identified not by name but by number. Screens were erected between the committee and the auditioner…”

Wait for it..

“And as these new rules were put in place around the country, an extraordinary thing happened: orchestras began to hire women. In the past thirty years, since screens became commonplace, the number of women in the top U.S. orchestras has increased fivefold.”

Shazam! There was now an evidence-based approach to identifying talent in place rather than an ideology chock full of unchallenged assumptions and these orchestras found more talent, some of it male, some of it female.

“What the classical music world realized was that what they thought was a pure and powerful first impression – listening to someone play – was in fact hopelessly corrupted.”

Hopelessly corrupted, you and I. 

You cannot change what you do not acknowledge and you cannot be serious about talent without taking steps to mitigate the natural bias that shows up between human beings.

Be good to each other.

This article first appeared at

Joe Gerstandt

Joe is co-founder of Talent Anarchy. As a speaker and consultant, Joe helps organizations understand and implement diversity in a way that leads to innovation and prosperity.  Listen to Joe speak, and you’ll see that he draws from his days as a United States Marine and Gulf War Veteran and his insightful time in sales. At times edgy, at times hilarious, always passionate, Joe Gerstandt is committed to facilitating positive change. Follow Joe on Twitter at @joegerstandt

Four Types of Questions To Ask Your Mentor

Have conversations with your mentor gotten a bit repetitive lately? Perhaps you approached ...

25 Questions to Ask a Mentor

A few years ago, around the time when I was launching this blog, ...

15 Songs for Your Leadership Playlist

It was one of those conference moments I’ll never forget: Carly Fiorina had ...

How to Shut Down a Colleague Who Takes Credit for Your Work

Has this ever happened to you? You’re in a meeting and the unthinkable ...

5 Ways to be a Leader, Not a Manager

Have you ever wondered about the difference between a manager and a leader? ...

10 Killer Leadership Skills: The Great Differentiators?

Last week at Hallmark I hosted a couple gentlemen from a partner company. ...

11 Leadership Lessons Learned

Here are 11 lessons I’ve learned about leadership—mostly from much-admired colleagues, and just ...

9 Traits of Exceptional Leaders

Truly great leaders are hard to come by, but it seems everyone thinks ...

Influencing Without Authority—Using Your Six Sources of Influence

I am in the difficult situation of being unofficial project lead, responsible for ...

5 Things Women Leaders Should Stop Doing. TODAY.

Over the last couple years, I’ve had a front row seat to career ...

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome in Your Career
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome in Your Career

As someone who left the corporate world to start my own business a few years

How to Make Your Mark When You Enter a Team
How to Make Your Mark When You Enter a Team

For most of us, working on projects and deliverables by ourselves is becoming increasingly scarce. We

Leaderly Quote: Don’t wait for an invitation to lead.
Leaderly Quote: Don’t wait for an invitation to lead.

“Don’t wait for an invitation to lead. Learn to see the leader in yourself.” —Jo

Confidence is Belonging
Confidence is Belonging

Confidence is a topic that is written about hugely – in fact I’ve done my

Leaderly Quote: Harness your superpowers…
Leaderly Quote: Harness your superpowers…

Ask a woman to name her signature strengths and she’ll often squirm in her chair,

It’s OK to Ask For Help
It’s OK to Ask For Help

It’s easy to imagine that our role models, leaders, and other highly successful people have

Listen, Learn, Lead! Teleclass, Podcast & Radio Roundup
Listen, Learn, Lead! Teleclass, Podcast & Radio Roundup

Want to smarten up, expand your thinking, and procrastinate a bit longer on that tedious

Three Tricks to Step Up Your Self-Promotion Skills
Three Tricks to Step Up Your Self-Promotion Skills

I recently attended a women’s leadership dinner and heard a young woman ask the speaker—a

Leaderly Quote: Learn to just say no.
Leaderly Quote: Learn to just say no.

“Learn to just say no. No explanation, no excuse, no apology.”—Fawn Germer  

The Top 5 Most-Read Articles This Month
The Top 5 Most-Read Articles This Month

Are you looking for motivation to help you take charge of your career trajectory? Here

At Be Leaderly, our mission is a simple one: To provide proven career strategies that help you lead, climb, and thrive as a rising woman of influence. If you’re ready to lead, we’re here to support and inspire you.




We will never share, rent, or sell your personal information or email address. Read more.
Copyright 2018, Be Leaderly